In Praise Of Friends
I have friends who are beyond price. Real. True. Friends. Some I catch up with regularly. Some I rarely see. Some I seem only ever to connect with online. But God bless ’em, every single one of them, because I am so frequently such an inadequate friend in return. All too often I greet warmth and generosity with an awkwardness that must feel awfully like indifference. Many times my silence is all I have to give. So this is both a short essay in praise of friends and an apology.
“A friend in need is a pest” — Groucho Marx
I love Groucho and I know he was, – as always it seems about serious things – joking. But he was wrong about this. Knowing that hasn’t stopped me hiding behind this quip. I have treated friends in cavalier fashion for no better reason than their needs were “inconvenient.” Like me – and I make no other comparisons; Groucho was a genius – he was difficult. He was, despite his very public job, notoriously private. He was generous to a fault…. until he wasn’t. He was opinionated, yet fragile, smart as a whip, yet dumb as a box of rocks. He could be a dreadful friend and a trying partner. Ditto. Ditto. Ditto. Ad Infinitum.
“God gave you your family. Thank God you can choose your friends.”
— Oscar Wilde
I love Oscar too. But again – even though I know it was one of his trademark bittersweet epigrams – this misses the mark in my experience. For the most part, my family have lifted me up, just as much as my friends. They’ve so often deserved better from me. I recognize the truth of what Oscar says about choice, though. There’s something wonderful about people who’ve chosen to be in your life.
“I thought I was flying like a bird So far above my sorrow But when I looked down I was standing on my knees Now I need someone to help me Someone to help me please ”
— Jackson Browne
I can’t possibly express the number and breadth of gifts I owe to my friends; this is a blog, after all, not War And Peace. And I’d be sure to miss someone – or something – that helped shape my life. But I can tell you about a week, one single incredible week, that prompted me to write this. During just the past seven days, I have:
- Met with a friend who lives impossibly far away and yet has doggedly, lovingly, preserved our emotional connection. I cried when we parted.
- Had breakfast with a friend who – despite profound difficulties in her own life – cared only about making mine better. She has never failed to do so.
- Sat down with a friend who shared her personal story, painful though it was, because she believed it would help me. Experience, offered selflessly, can be among the greatest gifts.
- Received a heartfelt message from a friend who reached out with medical help. We share a challenging disease. But it must be said he has suffered far more severely. He just wanted to help.
- And on and on it went. And goes on.
To all my friends. Thank you.
Trust. Allow. Get Out Of Your Own Way.
Get out of your own way.
They’re the three key precepts I always stress as an acting teacher.
Of course there is so much more to the craft of acting but I passionately believe these form the core.
My students – I teach acting for the screen – are invariably sceptical.
Almost without exception their initial reaction is; “can it really be that simple?”
The answer – surprisingly – is yes.
If you absolutely commit to the rules – particularly the third – acting for film is simple.
You’ll notice I said simple, not easy.
There’s nothing easy about acting for the camera.
The ability to give a credible, affecting, emotionally-charged, often laboriously repeated performance, hour after hour, take after take, in a highly technical environment, is high art indeed.
The moment to moment demands on a screen actor are phenomenal.
And even if he or she masters them, the camera is watching the moments between the moments for any flicker of falsity.
Just as a loving lens can be your friend, it can also be your harshest critic.
The camera actually hates acting – it can spot a “performance” a mile away – so actors can’t get caught being themselves while trying to be someone else.
In one of the profound paradoxes of the profession, screen acting demands that actors be – simultaneously – completely open, spontaneous and authentic, while at the same time having already created their character, learned their lines and “blocked” most of their movements!
How is this possible?
To paraphrase one of the giants of acting training Sanford Meisner, they do it by a staggering amount of preparation beforehand, then completely letting go during performance.
They must Trust that emotion is being conveyed without forcing it.
They must Allow whatever arises to do so organically.
And they must Get out of their own way so as not to block, censor or manufacture the process.
Only recently have I fully appreciated those same rules don’t just apply to acting; they’re a powerful template for a satisfying life.
No Chairs. Just Seats.
Just weeks ago, Treasurer Joe Hockey told us that we’d “fall off our chairs” over some aspects of the Intergenerational Report.
It didn’t happen.
In fact, the silence was almost deafening.
The “national conversation we had to have” was a whisper, at best.
Expert analysis was quietly measured.
Comment was muted.
Meanwhile, a few puzzled pensioners pondered a future career at Bunnings.
But it left most of us feeling – rather than falling off our chairs – more like we were getting up from a bean bag.
There was a brief moment when we all realised we were getting older but after a few creaks and groans, getting back up seemed pretty do-able.
(Nothing to see here, folks. No chairs and no voters were injured in the making of this report.)
Smilin’ Joe probably should have saved the Hockey hype for the upcoming budget, due in just two months.
All the signs are he’ll need it.
To paraphrase another battle-weary cigar-smoking politician, this is a budget that is going to have to mean “so much, to so many, and be paid for by so few.”
And it’s LCP MPs who will be losing their seats if the government gets it wrong.
Remember, government attempts to get any of its key measures from the previous budget – was it really 7 months ago? – one after another have crashed and burned.
Senate difficulties aside, it’s been a legislative disaster.
So how is the next do-or-die document shaping up?
Remember, this is a document that has to turn around the iceberg-prone, barnacle-encrusted ship of state that is the Abbott government.
It has to re-set – can we stand another one? – the Abbott agenda.
Officially, the PM is upbeat.
“This will be a budget that is prudent, frugal, responsible,” Mr Abbott says.
“But there’ll be something in it for families, a better child-care deal in particular, and there’ll be much in it for small business.”
Good because everyone loves fluffy kittens, sensible budget management, incentives and handouts.
Bad because it does nothing to address the real issue; the government has a hole the size of Texas in its income stream.
Too much money going out, not enough coming in.
It’s not like the Abbott government can plead ignorance.
This is the government – in fact, it goes back to when Mr Abbott was in opposition – that has banged on about the “Debt And Deficit Disaster” left by Labor until it was blue in the tie.
Yet even now its locked into a schizophrenic narrative.
On the one hand – politically – the government must counter the perceived surprises and unfairness of its first budget.
On the other – economically – it must reign in spending, potentially alienating the very people it is trying to woo back to the cause.
(A third imperative is to find large, reliable, politically-palatable income streams. But politics is “the art of the possible”, not the damn-near-impossible.)
Moving the nation’s finances from the red to the black seems as far away as ever.
Deputy secretary of Treasury’s fiscal group Nigel Ray has confirmed that the Abbott government’s current fiscal settings would never achieve a surplus.
That’s perhaps the most complete and competent refutation of the LCP’s claim that they’d put the adults back in charge if we voted for them in 2013.
And all the while there’s the ticking time bomb of Tony Abbott’s leadership.
A budget backlash would almost certainly lead to an explosion in the party room and then the PM’s office.
Leader-in-waiting Malcolm Turnbull must be on the edge of his chair in anticipation.
I look forward to talking to you
Thanks for stopping by.
I’m looking forward to becoming we’ll much better acquainted in the days, months and years ahead.
It’s a big world out there but – perhaps for the first time in history – we have the tools to make it small enough to reach out and share our stories.
I hope, for example, we’ll get to analyse current events, look to the future, share sometimes controversial ideas and express our true feelings – no matter how challenging any of these might be.
We won’t always agree.
But – from my end at least – this will always be a safe place to be, and share, who we really are.